On a recent Saturday evening, Gary and Christine Rood stood in a cozy lounge near a crackling fireplace inside the new OHSU guest house that they helped build. Near the window is a bronze sculpture, called The Healer, that has provided inspiration to Gary. Beyond it is a view of the hospital where he worked as an administrator some 40 years ago.
Their visit to the newly-opened Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion is a kind of homecoming for the couple, as it is for the many families who now have a convenient and supportive place to stay while a child or spouse is undergoing treatment at OHSU or Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
“When I worked at OHSU, I saw the need for patient family housing on a daily basis,” said Gary. “When I came in to work early in the morning, there were still people in the lobby who had been sleeping there all night.”
Christine feels a kinship with the families who must travel far from home for specialized care. “I grew up in eastern Oregon,” she said. “I know what it’s like to have to come a long way to a big city, and how overwhelming that can be if you’re dealing with an illness.”
“It’s beyond our wildest dreams. I’m thrilled that we had the opportunity to give. It was very emotional, driving up for the first time and seeing our name on the building. It is truly magical.”Gary Rood
Now, 76 guest rooms in this beautiful new facility on Portland’s South Waterfront will enable families to sleep in peace and privacy. Kitchens, laundry rooms, playrooms, and an outdoor garden and playground provide comfort and practical necessities. The facility is operated by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and Southwest Washington, which also provides programming for the families of children in treatment at Doernbecher. Everything about the pavilion is designed to lift a burden from families, so that they can focus on what matters most: healing.
“It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” says Gary. “I’m thrilled that we had the opportunity to give. It was very emotional, driving up for the first time and seeing our name on the building. It is truly magical.”
The Roods’ $12 million philanthropic investment made it possible for the ambitious building project to move forward to completion. But Gary is quick to acknowledge that the guest house is the result of a collective effort, with support from 1,900 donors. “Ours is one gift out of thousands,” he pointed out. “One little girl raised $800 with a lemonade stand, and that gift is just as important.”
The Roods appreciate the power of philanthropy to transform communities. “This has been been a magical journey that started over fi ve years ago when Phil Knight issued his cancer challenge and we got involved in giving to that,” said Gary. He and Christine were inspired by the Knights’ challenge and the way it galvanized thousands to support the cause. “Phil and Penny Knight could have simply written a check to the Knight Cancer Institute,” said Gary, “but then nobody else would have been able to participate. The way they did it — inviting everyone and anyone to give to this issue — just hit me between the eyes.”
The couple gave $1 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Challenge to establish an endowed professorship for cancer research. “I lost my first son to cancer at age 23,” said Gary. “Having been through that, like every other victim of cancer, you want to do everything you can to help.”
The couple’s interest in health care runs deep. Christine was an HR director at a hospital before going into business with her husband. While attending college, Gary landed an internship at UCLA Medical Center during his senior year. He rotated through all the various departments, from the morgue to the operating room. “At the end of it all,” Gary says, “I loved it. I loved what we were accomplishing. I loved the people.”
That same sentiment led Gary to graduate business school at the University of Iowa and then back to Portland, Oregon, as a hospital administrator at OHSU. “I loved the environment of a teaching hospital,” Gary says of OHSU. “It intrigued me. The more complicated, the better. I loved the challenge of it. It’s truly a city by itself.”
Gary’s career in hospital administration continued in The Dalles, where he served as president of Mid-Columbia Medical Center, until he and Christine decided to “strike out on their own” and start their own business. They started leasing nursing homes, assisted living residences and memory care facilities for seniors.It was also in The Dalles where Gary and Christine began investing in philanthropy. They started a scholarship in memory of Gary’s son. To this day, the Roods maintain an active role with the scholarship program.
The Roods now live in Vancouver, Washington, and manage Rood Investments. They support the Boys and Girls Club in Vancouver and the Unity Center for Behavioral Health.
Their giving has increased over the years. “Holy catfish!” was Gary’s initial reaction when he learned how much was needed to build a guest house for families at OHSU. But he and Christine quickly made a plan for how they would support the project. “This is the single biggest thing we’ve ever done,” said Gary. “If I don’t do anything else in my life, I think that will be okay.”
His pride and delight in seeing this project come to fruition stems from his understanding of what the Rood Pavilion means to families. “Medicine changes, but the need to take care of people is the same,” said Gary. “The need has always been there, and it always will be. What’s so meaningful to me is that this building we see today will still be helping families 100 years from now, long after you and I are gone.”